31 January 2011

2011 BDO Canadian Open! Part I

I was fortunate enough to be invited to the 2011 BDO Canadian Open in Oshawa, Ontario. How did an American club curler from Rochester, NY, get such an invitation. Well, I think my Facebook page had something to do with it. It all started with this message from Norwegian lead HÃ¥vard Vad Petersson:

"We`re over to Canada three more times this season.
Edmonton in January, Oshua(?) near Toronto late January and Regina in April...
You`re on the east coast right?

I knew where Oshawa was. In fact, in my youth, I had been to Oshawa, as a Boy Scout. I had to find a way to get to Oshawa for this event! A combination of the kindness of the Norwegians (two of whom have become my Facebook friends) who were eager to meet me, and George Karrys, the Director of Communications for the Capital One Grand Slam of Curling (among other titles he holds - hardest working man in curling, but more on that in a later post) and Fan of the Pants, who took care of credentials, got me into the event.

Now, I just had to get there. I was quite excited. This started to become even more real for me when I started getting the FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE press releases on Wednesday. I was quite honoured to be on such a distribution list. And yes, I did just spell "honoured" with a U.

The event started on Wednesday, 26 January 2011. There was no way I could get there so early, but I was determined to get there by Thursday night. I set off on my drive (my girlfriend Lisa in tow) on Thursday afternoon, leaving me plenty of time to get over the border, get currency exchanged, and get to the arena. However, that also got me to the 401 in Toronto at about 5pm. Anyone familiar with big city traffic should know that, although Toronto traffic is not the worst I've ever experienced (DC, Boston, San Jose all top it significantly), given that I had to be in Oshawa well in advance of an 8:00 match... well, let's say it was frustrating, and we'll leave it at that.

We arrived at the arena at 7:40pm. Temperature at gametime was 0 degrees outside. That's Canadian temps - it would be 32 in the States. How's that for an exchange rate?! After picking up our badges and credentials, I immediately checked the round robin standings - Team Ulsrud (the Norwegians, for those not in the know) was 2-0, and had three more matches to play, including one that evening (hence my haste in getting there) against Team

Now, it is here that I pause. Most of us who followed the Olympics know who Kevin Martin is. He was the Olympic Gold Medalist in Vancouver - in fact, he beat Team Ulsrud to get that medal. I, having followed curling a bit since that point, knew about 1/2 of the teams listed. In fact, many of the best curlers in the world were there - World champions, Brier champions, current big-time teams. In Canada - or at least in this arena - these guys were well-sponsored rock stars. In the US? I'd be willing to bet that Glenn Howard could walk the streets of Chicago unbothered. Or even Pete Fenson.

For those who don't know, Pete Fenson was the 2006 Olympic bronze medalist, the skip for the US team, and a six-team national champion. I'm told he also owns a pretty good pizza place in Bemidji, Minnesota, which is the US capital as far as curling is concerned. I hope to visit someday.

After getting a quick bite to eat at the snack bar - I had a slice of pizza - I went to look at the ice. And I saw Team Ulsrud, warming up prior to their match. They had no idea I was in the building, and I had no idea I was going to see this.

My first instinct was to take a picture right from where I was, and so I did. This was a cell phone picture (as you will see, several of my picture are), but it was necessary to take it.

Now that I have seen them warm up, and taken care of all my necessary errands, it was time to find my seat. Of course, being a credentialed journalist, I could have just gone anywhere I wanted to. However, I didn't yet know this fact, so I sheepishly asked some of the security folks where I could go. They eventually directed me to the upper level, which is where I sat for the remainder of this match, as well as part of their first match the next day.

We have taken our seats, and the teams are introduced. Clearly, I am there to see the match on sheet B, but there are five going on. Most of the teams are wearing colours that are somewhat subdued, but there are exceptions. Team Howard, sponsored by Swiffer - and what a great curling sponsor! My next broom is a Wet Jet! - is wearing bright green shirts; Team Martin, right in front of us, are wearing Uncle Ben orange. Oh, and of course, The Pants. Loudmouth Golf is, of course, a major sponsor of Team Ulsrud, and tonight, they wore Blue and Gold. Ironically, I almost wore Blue and Gold, but settled for Red Houndstooth instead.

I did get up to take a quick picture with one of two mascots I saw over the weekend. I did not get this guy's name. He was a quiet fellow, but he enjoyed my fashion sense.

Let the curling begin! Ten teams on the ice.... each of them filled with curlers better than me. I am being a little hard on myself - I'm not as good as these guys, but I really am not that bad. As I discovered later, their skills - and the way they make tough shots look really easy - is partly a factor of the ice they were using. The match I am watching is the tightest, and the most exciting - Kevin Martin eventually won it, but he had to make a fantastic final shot in the 8th (a triple!) to make that happen.

However, I found myself watching two other matches as well. Team McEwen, who eventually won this event, started off with three blank ends. For those not well-versed in curling strategy, a team will sometime intentionally blank an end, to hold onto the hammer, until they can get more than one point in the end. Takes a hammer away from the other team, and makes for a bigger score jump. In the 4th end, McEwen dropped a 4 on Team Middaugh. He followed that up by stealing 3 in the 5th, which ended the match. That was just complete and utter dominance, and I found myself awed by that.

The other match I was watching was the Glenn Howard rink. After 3 ends, they were up 5-1 on Team Walchuk, a match he eventually won 9-2. After watching that utterly dominant performance, I thought to myself "wow, I hope Team Ulsrud doesn't meet them before the final, because they are REALLY tough!" I was right - they ended up being runners-up.

For those so inclined, defending Brier and World Champion Kevin Koe defeated local boy Mark Kean and his squad 6-3 in 7 end, and Jim Cotter took Randy Ferbey by the same score. The only thing about those two matches that caught my eye? Kevin Koe himself. His delivery is the lowest to the ice I have ever seen. I want to curl like that. I am not that flexible, so of course I never will, but it was impressive to watch.

At this point, I go on a search for the Pants. I have been clued
in that my badge is All Access (a term I fully came to understand about 18 hours later), and so I could go downstairs to the player's area and try to catch the team... and I saw Thomas Ulsrud, giving an interview. I waited patiently, of course, for him to finish, and then I introduced myself.

Except I didn't really. Thomas said something along the lines of "Heeeey, look who's here! I know this guy! Hi, Tony!" Er, ah, um, eee.... yeah, he knew who I was. We made small talk for a minute, and then he had to run to catch up to the rest of the team. He did promise that we would get together later on.

And so went my first evening at the BDO Canadian Open. It
was a great evening of curling, and I was really jazzed for the next day's events. Nothing could have prepared me for what exactly it would bring.